Professional commitment key to success: Dr. Iqbal
It all started with Dr. Iqbal Choudharys joining at HEJ Institute of Chemistry in 1983, when eminent scientist Dr. Attaur Rahman was his supervisor for PhD. Dr. Iqbal always takes pride of being the student of Dr. Attaur Rahman. Later, he moved to Pennsylvania State University where he was a National Science Foundation Fellow. There he had the honour of working with a very famous scientist Prof. Maurice Shamma, who was very well known for his contribution to Alkaloids Chemistry. Then Dr. Iqbal moved to Cornell University, for his Post Doctorate. In Cornell, he worked mainly in the field of Structural Organic Chemistry. From there he moved to National Institute of Health and then came back to Pakistan and joined HEJ Institute as an Assistant Professor. Within a period of eight years Dr. Iqbal was promoted as Professor. In the last about 30 years he did research, with over 850 research publications, some 30 international patents and 25 international books. A number of 70 PhD students have graduated under his supervision. Currently he is the most cited scientist of Pakistan with over 6500 citations and over 1500 CIF (cumulative impact factor) of publications
Give some brief account of your sojourn to the current post of Director of the institute?
DR IQBAL CHOWDHRY: Since 2002 I have been serving this institution as Acting Director and in 2008 I was assigned to serve as the Director of the institute. My teacher Dr. Atta insisted that I take over the post of Director which is a rare example in these days. This is my brief journey. Till today I enjoy doing research, administration is a big responsibility. I confine myself to only a few components of administration. I can do it as I have a very committed group of faculty members and staff, who take care of different administrative issues. Under this system everybody contributes and has a great sense of ownership. So you can say we have a shared management and this institution is the best example of shared management.
What are the reasons for failure of commercialization of research in the country?
Commercialization of research is the outcome of the basic research. It also depends upon the people and the institute to take the lab research to the market. This is a cycle. Money converts into resource that helps attain knowledge; it converts into innovation that comes to market and turns again into money. Everywhere in the world where research institutions lead to the development of the country there is a close coordination to take successful research from lab to the market. This has not happened in our country. During the remarkable eight-year tenure of Dr. Attaur Rahman, this started to happen as he provided the necessary resources that convert into knowledge. He then also ensured that this knowledge is treated as a quality component and helped people to patent the novelty. So a culture of promotion of innovation was nurtured in the country.
How can we promote the science and technology culture?
It is actually the family and the national attitude. The promotion of science and technology culture depends upon the national temperament. If a nation has the capability to rationally think, accept facts, peacefully argue, tolerance to accept divergent views and capability to change as per the need of the time then it can be more advance than other nations. All these things emerge out of good education and training at the basic education level. Actually we dont allow our children to ask questions. Learning at the school level is rot learning, its not a hands-on learning experiences at the basic education level. Unfortunately, the way we are teaching our children ends their curiosity of learning new things. We need rapid and urgent improvement on this front.
Do you think the science education is on the decline?
Unfortunately, we have failed to make progress in many areas like the promotion of science and technology, development of democratic system and judicial system. As far as the capacity of the nation is concerned I am absolutely hopeful our younger generation is at par with their counterpart generations in the developed world. And if you look at our society it is fast transforming as you now see an emerging culture of science and technology as well as of arts and designs which reflects a high level of creativity and intelect. We should focus on educating our young people and then wait for wonders to happen.
What do you think are the missing links?
Basic engineering skills are absolutely necessary and with properly trained manpower you can turn around your country. After developing the engineering skills you can employ them for all the sectors ranging from agriculture to sports goods. Our agriculture needs mechanization, processing and packaging, while our sports and surgical sector requires induction of cutting edge technologies to retain their niche in the world. HEC and MoST under the leadership of Prof. Attaur Rahman was trying to do these things. All the strategies are there we need their implementation.
What kind of help your institute provides to industry?
Our local chemical, fertilizer and pharma are part of the international companies and are only involved in packaging and supply they dont conduct any research locally. Then you have industry that is established on turn-key basis, meaning that they run on the imported technology and dont need any assistance as they are also not in the research and development business. We support a limited number of companies which are in the research business. Let me mention here that I was delight to visit a local company Herbion that is exporting herbal and other natural products to 27 countries. This is the kind of company the academic institutions can provide technical support in research and development.
What are you doing on the genome project?
It was an essential component of our science infrastructure at the national level to have capability for the genome sequencing, not only for the human genome but also for the other important life form. We worked closely with the Beijing Genome Centre. Our scientists have worked out the genome mapping of the first Pakistani citizen. This makes us the ninth nation to have a citizen genome mapped. In fact this genome map is of Dr. Attaur Rahman. Dr. Atta has donated a handsome amount to us to set up the first genome research centre of Pakistan in the name of his father Jamilur Rahman.
Are you satisfied with impact factor and citation criteria in Pakistan?
There is no single system in the world that can gauge the scientific potential. I think the criteria at present being used by PCST are good as there are many components like how many PhDs, books and research publications along with impact factor and citation. I think it is quite comprehensive. If somebody has better criteria than this one, s/he should present it immediately then it could be looked into for final decision.
It is said that they are promoting quantitative research?
Then we will have to define what is quantitative and qualitative. Actually the people they complain a lot when they are asked to come forward to make their suggestions and arguments they hide, leaving no option but to follow what was devised or to follow the international process.
Are you satisfied with the Science and Technology Policy?
As I have said already that all policies are good, just implement them. We have made many policies in the past and the current policy is not different from the previous ones. The difference will be created only if it gets implemented. Korea and Malaysia and many other countries in the region have created the difference as they implemented the policies which they devised while we failed to implement them.
Do you think language is a barrier in the promotion of science education?
I dont think language is the barrier. Just adopt the universal model give primary education in mother language and develop the skills of the students in the English language. This is implemented even in China, where they develop English language skills in their students without attempting to teach them English as a foreign language and we should do the same.
Why cant we have group of world class scientists today?
This assumption is wrong. We never had any range of world class scientists. Those who made it, made it through their personnel efforts. They were gifted individuals who came out of the same system. Dr. Atta attempted to have a system to produce scientists in the bulk. I am hopeful that when these youngsters return to the country then we will reap the dividends.
Anything more you like to add?
Education should be the top priority of the state. I think we should have a national policy on education. It is absolutely essential for progress, tolerance and development.